Dig unearths Native American history at Quail Creek

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The digging is over but the work has just begun on an archaeological project just inside the entrance to Quail Creek.

Dig unearths Native American history at Quail Creek
Charlie Keswani, who has an anthropology degree from the University of Arizona, maps a house uncovered on the site at Quail Creek.[Credit: Dan Shearer/Green Valley News]

WestLand Resources in Tucson has had 10 workers at the two-acre site for about six weeks, and on Thursday ended what it calls data recovery. They’ll spend the next several months processing and analyzing artifacts and preparing a report for Quail Creek developer Robson Communities, which requested the work.

State and federal law require an archaeological assessment if a project is on public land or involves tax dollars, but that wasn’t the case here because the land is private, said Bill Deaver, a senior archaeologist with WestLand.

“The developer has taken it upon themselves to appreciate the value of cultural heritage of the past and to follow local, state and federal guidelines … to preserve the history they have,” he said Thursday.

The town of Sahuarita does not require an archaeological assessment before construction. Quail Creek, which has paid for several digs over the past 12 years, plans to put villas and single-family homes on the site, said Steve Soriano, a Robson vice president.

Artifacts recovered at the site are being donated to the Arizona State Museum on the University of Arizona campus.

Digging it up

Workers at the site found evidence of 10 structures that indicate a small residential settlement dating to about A.D. 950. Deaver said they have a preliminary feel for the site and will spend the next few months studying what they found.

Dig unearths Native American history at Quail Creek
Workers uncovered a piece of “Rincon Red-on-Brown” pottery dating to about A.D. 1025. The piece is large enough to allow workers to determine the circumference of the pot [Credit: Dan Shearer/Green Valley News]

Among the discoveries:

  • Pottery sherds (shards are glass, sherds are pottery), including a large piece of “Rincon Red-on-Brown” with characteristics of the middle to late Sedentary Period, or about A.D. 1025. It is likely Hohokam, though it hasn’t been linked to a sub-branch.
  • A turquoise pendant that Deaver called notable but not rare.  
  • Cooking, processing and storage pits.
  • Flakestone, a byproduct of the making of stone tools such as arrowheads.
  • Part of a metate, the base stone for grinding food.
  • A ground stone effigy of an animal that could have religious significance or simply be art.
  • Fire pits and post holes to support homes.

Jeff Charest, the on-site field director for WestLand Resources, says there is likely much more on the site but that money and resources don’t allow widespread excavation.

“We’re looking for a statistical sample of what’s here,” he said.

The crews trenched up to two feet deep in several spots then relied on experience and training to sift through dust and caliche to identify color and texture changes that indicate something of value.

“It takes a lot of subtle skills to tease out the details of something like this,” Charest said.

Decades of work

The project is the latest in decades of work documenting the history of those who lived near the Santa Cruz River south of the Tucson Basin.

The first known archaeological study of the area was in 1954 by Paul Frick, a University of Arizona graduate student who plotted 10 areas in present-day Quail Creek. Over the past 25 years, several excavation projects have been undertaken in what are now Quail Creek and Madera Highlands.

One of the most notable was the discovery of a shell pendant in 2005-06. It depicted a man walking upright with a staff with the head of bird on it. The so-called Shell Man artifact became the namesake of the site where it was discovered in the southwestern corner of Quail Creek. It is believed to be from the Colonial or Sedentary period, putting it anywhere from A.D. 750 to 1150.

Deaver said the pendant suggested aspects of the culture that normally aren’t seen, including a hierarchy that may have existed. The rare piece was turned over to the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Charest said there has been a lot of interest in the recent dig over the past several weeks and that there is talk about a short-term display of the artifacts at Quail Creek.

He said archaeology helps us “stop and consider what came before us,” adding that there are lessons to be learned, including “how to manage natural resources in a way that is sustainable.”

“I don’t think we should be a nation that disregards its past.”

Author: Dan Shearer | Source: GV News [November 03, 2013]